We sure did end the 2011 season on a high note! Big bows were everywhere as we stepped into the Copper River for the first, official Women's Flyfishing® guided trip to Copper on the Fly on Lake Iliamna. We'd learned all about these wonderful fish on last year's exploratory trip and, because we had more time this year, we had more opportunities to explore the nooks and crannies of this wonderful little river.
Because it was fall, we started off with various colored egg-imitation beads until we found just what was working. When we scored, it would often be fish after fish after fish, pretty much right in the same spot. Up and down the river we went to the guide's favorite spots, catching fish at all of them.
After a while it seemed that the fish would get smart to us in one location or the other, and then we switched over to large, black, articulated leeches, woolly buggers and bunny flies, sometimes with a bead in front of it and sometimes not. It really didn't seem to matter, they were hungry, and as long as we made a good presentation, they were on it.
Copper on the Fly is a small lodge perched high on a hill just at the mouth of the Copper River as it flows into Iliamna Lake in Bristol Bay. It's the dream-come- true creation of a couple of air traffic controllers turned lodge owners and guides, who have morphed a family recreation spot into a great, small flyfishing haven (or maybe it's heaven) for a few guests at a time.
Five lucky people went along with me for the trip and we rotated guides and boats throughout our four-day stay. We got very well acquainted with each other in the one, large guest cottage that sits right next to the main lodge building connected by a great, board-walk that topped the rusty red and gold of fall tundra. We spotted a sow and twin cubs crossing the river from the porch as we enjoyed a glass of wine before dinner one night, and then watched them for nearly an hour as they wandered along the river sniffing out sockeye salmon carcasses for their dinner. We decided it was the same sow and cubs as we'd seen last year when the cubs were very small.
Dinner each night was a raucous event with everyone telling fish stores as fast as they could, glassing the glowing copper-colored river banks for wildlife, exchanging digital cameras with the day's pictures, and, of course devouring the shrimp, ribs, and other delights that emerged from the tiny kitchen and the back porch bar-b-q.
We also saw wildlife on the river each day with a couple of very large brown bears checking us out but willing to depart when we grouped up and started hollering at them. One afternoon we had to actually stop fishing to watch the thousands upon thousands of shifting formations of sandhill cranes honking and flying overhead. I've never seen a spectacle quite like it. Lots of Canadian geese were doing the same thing, just in lesser numbers. A couple of moose were also around, and, much to our delight, we also saw a pair of wolves cross the river right above where we were fishing. Another really, really large, almost black brown bear appeared in the river grasses below the lodge early one morning and kept us watching him until we left for fishing. Through it all a pair of Northern Harrier hawks swooped and hovered above the glowing orange grasses after small rodents. How beautiful they were to watch.